Proudly, Ethiopian farmers put bags of chips in the air. Chips made from their potatoes. That tastes like more.
In Ethiopia, the STARS* program works with microfinance institutions (MFIs) and farmers cooperatives to increase food security and income for 76,000 smallholder farmers by strengthening the potato and malt barley value chains. In West Shewa Zone, Jaldu Woreda, STARS supports smallholder farmers in the potato value chain.
Potato Boosts Productivity
The potato value chain is valuable as it plays a great role in food security in Ethiopia. This crop is harvested during the lean season from August to October. It helps reduce shortage of food at household level. It also allows farmers to use potatoes in a crop rotation system; farmers produce another crop after potatoes are harvested. According to the farmers, planting potato boosts the productivity of the land for the second crop.
Absence of Good Seeds
Not everything runs smoothly however. Martha Yilma, Gender and Value Chain Development Officer of STARS Ethiopia: “The critical challenges to enhance the potato value chain development are the lack of structured market and low productivity caused by the absence of basic, high quality seeds.”
STARS tries to turn this situation for the better. But progress is slow. MFIs are not willing to provide loan products to this crop due to the market situation and seed unavailability. Lack of sufficient uptakers or established chip factories in the country make the challenge even bigger. Farmers sell their produce only to local traders, at a lower price with quintals (= a unit of weight equal to 100 kg) measuring more than 100 kg.
New and Fair Market
Fortunately the situation has been improved by linking farmers to Senselet Food, a processing factory owned by Dutch investors, the only chips making factory in the Ethiopia to date. Linking the smallholder farmers to the company is a great achievement of the program. On the one hand STARS partnered with Senselet Food to work on the issues of market, quality and basic seed availability. On the other hand STARS made a lot of effort to convince farmers on quality and sorting of potatoes. This strategy is now starting to pay out.
Farmers through their primary cooperatives supplied 80 tons of potatoes to the company with a fair price. They were able to sell their produce at farmgate with proper measurement, which makes a better price for the farmers compared to the traders who weigh in their own favor.
Ato Hailu Bayissa is one of the farmers who sold his potato. He expressed his excitement as follows: ¨I am very happy with Senselet Food, it helps a lot as we used to bury our potatoes for the lack of market, I need this business linkage to continue.¨
After the successful market linkage, farmers visited Senselet Food to learn more about quality standards required by the company and see how their produce go beyond their horizon. They saw examples of rejectable and acceptable potatoes. The farmers used the company visit to emphasize the importance of the sustainability of this market linkage.
After the visit, the production manager of Senselet Food informed he wanted to source more potatoes from the area: 200 metric tons of potato to be delivered within three weeks time. Unfortunately, the potatoes were already sprouted and Senselet withdrew the order! As the farmers couldn’t market them, some potatoes were kept too long under the soil. Though, potatoes from Jaldu Woreda have very good quality compared to other areas, according to Senselet staffs.
The partnership with Senselet is a step in the right direction. The farmers have a new market outlet, are better aware of the quality demands and proud to be part of the chips bags. And the MFIs? Will they step in? Martha Yilma: “They wait for new seeds. We have planned to approach the MFIs when the new basic seeds are secured. STARS and Senselet Food are co-investing in the production of a new potato seed generation.”
STARS made the farmers sell what they produced in which they got better income and have a great hope for future production with sustainable business and income.
* About STARS
Strengthening African Rural Smallholder (STARS) is a five year program (2016 - 2020) that runs in Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Senegal and Ethiopia. It is implemented by ICCO and funded by Mastercard Foundation. The program, aims to break the cycle of poverty and food insecurity among 210,000 smallholder farmers, by facilitating access to financial markets and agricultural services.